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Have the conversation. It’s all about the mission.

All discussions should be grounded in your mission/vision/values. If you don’t already: Include them on all staff and board meeting agendas. Post on the wall in meeting spaces. On the homepage. In your email signature and on your business cards.

 

When you begin your conversations about making significant structural changes to your organization, you will want to be clear about the reasons for these discussions. Are you concerned about your immediate viability? Are changes happening in your community: new competition; loss of, or lack of diversity in, audience members or donors; shifts in population? Your executive or Board leadership and energy may be dissipating. You may be at a point where your mission has been completed or has shifted. Or you may be diving into your regular strategic planning. In each case, it’s critical that everyone involved understand why you’re initiating this process of exploration.

 

Speaking of everyone involved – who is “everyone”? It’ll be different for each organization, but you likely need your Board, staff, and key partners, advisors and stakeholders at the table. In some situations, of course, you may need to be more circumspect – you don’t want rumors or unfounded concerns floating out in the community. But, over the last year or so we’ve all learned to talk more openly about difficult subjects and drop silo walls, so include as many good minds as you can. If staff are involved, be clear on when they are providing information and advice, and when they are (or are not) being part of the decision-making.

STAKEHOLDERS

A stakeholder is any person, organization, social group, or even society at large that has a stake in your organization. Therefore, stakeholders can be internal and/or external to the organization. A ‘stake’ is considered to be a vital interest in the business or the activities of the organization. Stakeholders can be affected by a business or organization and can themselves affect a business.

 

A stakeholder might be a customer or user, an employee, an investor, granting agency or funder, a community or community representative, local, county, state or federal government organization. Typically, you are accountable to stakeholders to some degree.

Prepping: gather the information everyone will need. Don’t make any assumptions yet about what you’ll decide to do – use this Toolkit to help you weigh all of your structural and legal options. Make sure your mission statement is front and center.

 

Other materials you’ll likely want to provide:

  • Most recent strategic plan/update

  • Recent annual reports

  • Board meeting minutes, board meeting attendance records, bylaws to review clauses related to mergers, closure, etc.

  • List of programs and participation figures for the last two-three years, including as much specific data as possible

  • Two-three years’ of financial information. In addition to P&L (Profit and Loss) statements and balance sheets, include anything that obligates the organization financially such as contracts/leases, pledge documents, wages/accrued leave, grant contracts, and restricted funds; and include information about assets and property including an inventory, information about any endowment or reserve fund including their policies, and the amount of income they generate.

  • Recent program evaluations, survey results, anything that will help you weigh the value of your activities

 

This won’t be a quick process. You will probably need multiple board meetings, as well as one-on-one conversations. “Board members may be rigid in their nostalgia,” says Stephanie Plummer of the Nebraska Arts Council. “Especially if you have founding Board members or staff, this can bring up a lot of emotions. Talk through what their reservations and concerns are. Hear them out.” You may want to bring in an outside facilitator to be a neutral conversation leader, pose the difficult questions, and point out both strengths and concerns that need to be stated aloud.

DISCLAIMER

The information included in this Toolkit was culled from sources available to the public, with input and review by field and subject matter experts. Every effort was made to present current and correct information as of July, 2021. This Toolkit does not represent legal guidance, and is provided for informational purposes. The author and publisher cannot be responsible for any losses or failures users experience as a result of using this information.

This Toolkit Includes Material From:

The American Association for State and Local History, Amy Schindler/University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Libraries, Arts Advisory Board, Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, Bancroft Library/University of California at Berkeley, Beth Kattelman/Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute at Ohio State University, BlueAvocado.org, Christopher Hochstetler/Stuhr Museum, Deborah Gilpin/Madison Children’s Museum, Deloitte, Edgepoint, the Glendale Star, Greg Hunter/Council of Nonprofits, Harvard Business Review, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, Jean-Phillipe Malaty and Tom Mossbrucker/Aspen/Santa[MQH1]  Fe Ballet, Jeanne Bell and Steve Zimmerman/Nonprofit Sustainability, Judy Polacheck/Polacheck HR Law LLC, Krystal Siebrandt, HBE LLP, LaRue Allen/Martha Graham Dance Company, Leigh Grinstead/LYRASIS, Michael Ibrahim and the MassCultural Council, Mindtools, Oral History Association, Performing Arts Readiness, Stephanie Mattoon/Baird Holm Attorneys at Law, Stephanie Plummer and the Nebraska Arts Council, Susana Smith Batista, Voice of Witness, the Wallace Foundation and AEA Consulting. Thanks to Beth Kattelman, Claire West, Deborah Gilpin, Leigh Grinstead, Lynn Dates and Stephanie Plummer. Special thanks to Jan Newcomb/NCAPER, and Tom Clareson, Performing Arts Readiness project. Design by Lynn Dates.